Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Proper safety and insurance can protect you during ski season

Two accidents this winter at a popular ski resort in Maine are a reminder of the dangers of snow skiing -- and of the need to check your insurance as well as your ski gear.
Just to be on the safe side -- before hitting the slopes -- find out whether your health insurance policy is up to snuff, says Jerry Becerra, president of Barbary Insurance Brokerage Inc. in San Francisco. Basic policies for health insurance and life insurance will provide coverage for people injured or killed at a ski resort, Becerra says.
Consumers also should look into travel accident policies that would add coverage for injuries sustained at a ski resort. These policies usually are available for $100 or less and can be purchased through travel agents, tour operators or online booking sites, according to Becerra.
insurance skiing
Once you're at the resort, you shouldn't rent skis there, says Frank Darras, an attorney in Ontario, Calif. When someone rents skis, he usually must sign a waiver. That waiver would provide a legal shield for the resort in case of a mishap involving the skis.
“If you sign a waiver, you’re giving up all of your rights to sue," Darras says.
What should I do if I get hurt?
One of the first things a skier should do if he is injured -- no matter how minor the injury -- is to report it to the ski resort, says Kenneth Sharperson, an attorney at New Jersey law firm Anderson Kill & Olick PC.
Rules vary from state to state regarding when a skier must report an injury. If the ski resort is run by a government agency, different reporting rules apply, says Frank Darras, an attorney in Ontario, Calif.
Aside from telling the ski resort, an injured skier should contact his health insurance company, which most likely will take care of medical bills (depending on the policy). If a lawsuit is filed, all records regarding the ski injury should be saved, experts say.
Downhill skiing advocates maintain that if people follow the rules, they can ski safely without getting injured.
Two accidents at the popular Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Maine in this winter have put the safety spotlight on this sport. More than 10 million Americans age 6 and up are downhill snow skiers, according to SnowSports Industries America, a trade association.

insurance skiing
The inherent risks of snow skiing
On Jan. 15, 2011, Joshua Waldron, a 16-year-old high school junior from Maine, died when he struck a piece of snowmaking equipment on the side of a trail at Sugarloaf.
While it’s too soon to tell, it's possible this accident resulted from what's known in legal circles as "the inherent risk of skiing," says Maine attorney Benjamin Gideon, who regularly skis at Sugarloaf. Most states (such as Maine, Colorado and Connecticut) that support large ski industries have laws protecting ski resorts from being sued if an injury or death is tied to the inherent risk of skiing.
However, if an attorney can prove that a ski injury or death was not tied to the inherent risk of skiing, then a lawsuit may be filed against the ski resort, Gideon says.
“If the ski resort stuck a pole in the middle of the trail and doesn’t mark it, then it’s not an inherent risk of skiing,” Gideon says. “There’d be no protection for the ski resort under the statues.”
Darras explains there are inherent, or assumed, risks with skiing. Ski resorts are legally protected when one of these assumed risks occurs. For example, if someone falls on ice while skiing, he wouldn’t have a legal case against the resort because ice is an inherent or assumed risk. However, if the resort is negligent and didn’t properly maintain equipment, then that type of accident is not an assumed risk and the resort could be held liable in a lawsuit.
Depending on the case, the ski resort's insurance company could end up paying damages in a lawsuit. But many factors come into play, such as whether skiing equipment was faulty itself or whether t wasn't properly maintained by the resort.
Chairlift accident spurs legal action
Currently, state officials in Maine are investigating the derailment of a chairlift Dec. 28, 2010, at Sugarloaf that injured eight people.
According to the resort, the area was hit with strong winds that day, so several lifts were shut down. Shortly after one of the lifts was put back in service, mechanics noticed a problem and began slowing the lift to take skiers off, but the lift cable dropped and five lift chairs with people in them fell to the snow below.
Ethan Austin, a spokesman for Sugarloaf, says the damaged chairlift remained closed as of Jan. 20, 2011, while state officials and resort workers continued their investigation.
Already, five of the victims of the December 2010 accident have hired Gideon to represent them. Gideon hasn’t filed a lawsuit yet. The attorney says he’s in the midst of his investigation and awaiting a final report from Maine officials. Austin says Sugarloaf does carry liability insurance.
“Obviously, our thoughts are with everyone on the lift, and we hope for a speedy recovery for all of them. We’ve been reaching out to everyone to address their individual concerns,” Austin says.
Darras, the California attorney, maintains that ski resorts that have encountered problems with chairlifts "are in deep trouble."
"If I’m going up on the chairlift and they’ve poorly maintained it and failed to inspect it and we all die, that’s not an assumed risk," Darras says. If it's not an assumed risk, that means the ski resort could be sued.
insurance skiing
Safety and snow skiing
Industry leaders maintain ski resorts adhere to rigorous standards for chairlifts. The most recent death involving a chairlift happened in 1993, says Michael Berry, president of the National Ski Areas Association. Twelve deaths involving chairlifts have occurred since 1973, when the industry began tracking safety.
“Chairlifts are breathtaking in terms of their safety,” Berry says. “You are nine times more likely to be in a fatal car accident than in a chairlift fatality.”
The SnowSport Safety Foundation, a nonprofit group that seeks to improve the safety of skiing and other snow sports, recently released a first-of-its-kind report on safety at 25 California ski resorts during the 2009-10 season.
The report examines hazards and risks at each ski resort, and safeguards in place for skiers, such as fencing and padding. The report also grades the resorts on their use of warning signs.
The report notes that none of the resorts required special training or instruction to skiers before using lifts, and none of the resorts mandated personal protection equipment such as helmets, goggles and pads.
Berry says about half of all snow skiers wear helmets. For more than a decade, roughly 40 snow skiers have died in skiing accidents each year, he says.
“Ten years ago, none of those people were wearing helmets. Last year, half were in helmets,” Berry says. “The solution to reducing risk or avoiding death is not an appliance. It’s all about your actions.”
To make sure you're taking the right actions, here are some snow skiing safety tips from the National Ski Areas Association:

• Remember that skiers ahead of you have the right of way.
• Don’t stop on the slope so that you obstruct a trail or are not visible from above.
• When merging on a trail, yield to others.
• Observe all posted signs and warnings.
• Keep off closed trails and out of closed areas.

Read Original Article: http://www.insurancequotes.com/health/insurance-skiing

12 tips to follow when appealing a health insurance claim denial

Q: I've been having trouble getting my health insurance company to pay a claim. What should I do? Who can help me?
A: Navigating the inner workings of the health care system can be extremely time-consuming, frustrating and sometimes even fruitless. Minor mistakes and discrepancies in reporting information to a payer can prevent a claim from being accepted. Here are some of the key mistakes that could be causing your claim denial:
• Erroneous identifying information (name misspelled, date of birth mismatch, subscriber or insured group number missing or invalid).
• Terminated coverage.
• Required pre-authorization.
• Non-covered services.
• Missing or invalid coding.
Beyond these relatively simple reasons, other, more complex reasons that you may be unable to pinpoint could be causing the denial. So don’t just assume the denial is correct. If you think your claim should be covered, take action. Most health insurance companies want to do things right.
Here are 12 steps you can take to appeal your insurance company’s denial:
1. Prepare yourself with all the information. In addition to the "explanation of benefits" from your insurance company, obtain an itemized bill from the provider. Sometimes a quick review of the itemized bill can uncover mistakes that otherwise would have made your claim payable.
2. Use resources at hand. Your insurance agent or group policy administrator (human resources department) can provide guidance.
3. Make sure you filed properly. A filing error on your part should not result in a denial. But you may be off on technicalities or just simply filed the claim too late.
4. Exercise your right to an external review. If your insurance company’s internal review provides a denial, then you may have the right to an external review.
5. File a formal grievance. This action will require you to appear before a committee to state your case or to choose someone to represent you at a committee hearing.
6. Do some shopping. See what other doctors in the area are charging for the same procedure or treatment. Present this information to your insurance company.
7. Follow up with deadlines. If your insurance agent or policy administrator doesn’t close the case within 30 days, call the health insurance company yourself. Write another letter with your original correspondence attached. Send it to the company’s customer service department and president. As the head of a company, I appreciate being copied on correspondence from our customers.
8. Get your doctor on board. If your doctor says the treatment was necessary, you might find your road to claim approval easier.
9. Prove previous creditable coverage. Was your claim denied because of pre-existing conditions? Until a certain provision of the federal health care reform law takes effect, insurers still can deny claims for individuals who had pre-existing conditions but didn't have previous coverage.
To arm yourself against this sort of denial, be sure to keep a copy of the certificate of creditable coverage that each health insurance company sends when it terminates a policy. You should give a copy of this form to the HR professional at your new employer; if you're insured on your own, be sure to send a copy of the certificate to your new insurance company. Proof that you had previous creditable coverage is extremely important when it comes to claims being paid.
10. Determine whether the claim was denied because of recent coverage reductions. If you were not properly notified about coverage reductions, that’s a violation of the law.
11. Enlist a medical bill negotiation company. You may find experienced medical cost containment companies that previously just served businesses now are serving consumers. These companies typically employ a team of medical professionals, nurse bill auditors, certified coders and negotiators who review medical bills every day.
12. Talk with your provider. If your claim was denied because the provider was out of network or it wasn't a service allowed under your policy, your provider may be willing to negotiate with you on costs. Some providers will offer a discount if you pay cash, or they'll help set up a payment plan.
Remember that it’s crucial to stay organized throughout this process. Keep a log of all your communication -- emails, letters, phone calls. Stay positive throughout the process, and know that every time empowered consumers work to resolve medical billing errors and inaccuracies, you’re helping create a better, more efficient health care system.
is CEO of Chicago-based Rising Medical Solutions, a medical cost containment/care management company serving the workers' compensation, group health, auto and liability markets. Beans founded Rising in 1999. Since then, Beans has received a number of honors, including Business Council Advisory Man of the Year and Midwest finalist for Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year. Rising has appeared several times on the Private Company Index's Top 10 Growth list and Inc. magazine’s Inc. 5000 list.
Beans earned a master's degree from MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program and a bachelor's degree in finance from Boston College.
For more information, visit www.risingms.com.
If you have a health insurance question for , please send it to john.egan@insurancequotes.com.
Read Original Article:  http://www.insurancequotes.com/health/how-to-appeal-health-insurance-claims

Traveling? Take 6 health insurance steps first

Health insurance while traveling

With luck, your trip will bring only good times, but it pays to be prepared for an unexpected health crisis away from home. If you get into a car accident or slip on ice, will insurance cover your care?
Your health insurance plan should cover medical emergencies while you’re on the road, whether for a holiday or vacation, but plans vary. So, do a little legwork before you travel to avoid any billing surprises when you get home.
Here are 6 health insurance steps to take before you leave on a trip:
1. Call your insurer
Talk to a representative from your insurance company, says Avrom Fox, a health advocate with North Shore Patient Advocates, a company that helps consumers navigate healthcare and health insurance claims.
“Say, ‘I’m going to New York to visit my kids for the holidays. Will I be covered?’” Fox says. “You can very easily get answers.”
See also: Worst holiday hazards and how to avoid them
It’s especially important to make such a call if you’ve got a condition like diabetes or heart disease that could increase the odds of your needing care on the road, he says.

2. Know you’re covered in an emergency
Don’t worry: if you have an emergency, like a serious car wreck, heart attack or stroke that requires an ambulance ride to the hospital, your insurer will cover it, Fox says. But what if you go to the ER just because you’re feeling sick?
That’s where it gets tricky because different insurers define emergency differently, Fox says. For example, some companies might cover you if you went to the ER with a bad cough, while others wouldn’t, he says. “It’s a real gray area,” he says.
However, many insurers also cover urgent care, such as cuts, ear infections and sprains, away from home. For non-emergencies, it’s probably best to visit an urgent care center rather than an ER, O’Brien says.

3. Check your network
A few plans offer a national network of health care providers, while many only have a statewide or regional network, says Eric O’Brien, a health insurance and employee benefits expert for Ardina, a healthcare discount program.
So, if you’re traveling across the state or out of state, you might not be able to find doctors and hospitals that are in-network for your plan. The best way to check: Log onto your insurer’s online portal, O’Brien says. Do a provider search of a 10 or 20-mile radius around the ZIP code where you’ll be spending your time, he says.
If you do find in-network providers, save their names and numbers just in case, he recommends.

4. Consider telemedicine
Before you go, you might check to see if your employer, health insurance plan or an association you belong to offers a telemedicine service, in which you can consult with a doctor remotely. Or, you can sign up for a service directly. It could save you money and time if you come down with something simple like a cold, rash or UTI while on your trip.
For example, O’Brien used such a service, Teladoc, when he woke up with a bad sinus infection while visiting his wife’s family over Thanksgiving. “The doctor called me within two seconds,” he says. “Within two hours, I had a Z-Pak and some sinus medicine waiting for me at the nearest pharmacy.”
And, O’Brien guesses he saved about $150 by avoiding an urgent care visit.
5. Put your card in your wallet
One of the most important things you should have with you in case something happens: your health insurance card, says Amy Bach, executive director of United Policyholders, an insurance consumer advocacy organization.
You can still get care without it, but it can be much more of a hassle. If you don’t have your card, make sure you have the phone number of your health insurance provider handy, Bach says.

6. Jot down your doctor’s number
It’s always a good idea to have your primary care physician’s number in your phone or wallet in case you want to ask about a health issue.
And if you’re a member of an HMO that requires a referral from your primary care doc to get other care, you’ll need to get that OK in order for care to be covered, unless your medical problem is an emergency, according to a primer on out-of-state travel from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
When you get back
If you do get the care you need while on vacation, and then you end up in a dispute with your health insurance company — for example, over the definition of an emergency — you might want to hire a medical billing advocate to help you get the problem sorted out. Advocates go to bat for the patient to try to get care covered or bills reduce, he says.
But keep in mind that even if your insurer covers your care, it’s probably going to be out-of-network, which means you will get a larger than normal bill and your payments may be applied to a separate out-of-network deductible.
“There’s likely to be sticker shock,” Fox says.

Read Original Article: http://www.insurancequotes.com/health/travel-health-insurance-tips

Wearable tech: The future of your health (and health insurance)

You can already purchase technology to wear on your body that can tell you everything from how many steps you walk in a day, to how well you sleep at night. Devices such as FitBit and Sony Core can take the guesswork out of staying fit and maintaining healthy habits - and they're swiftly growing in popularity. According to a 2013 report from Berg Insight, a telecom industry research company, about 8.3 million wearable computers were sold worldwide in 2012, and that number was projected to rise to 64 million by 2017.
However, the future of this kind of tech is moving to inside your body - soon, you will be able to use implantable and ingestible tech (such as digital pills) to monitor your health and perhaps treat chronic illnesses such as heart disease and cancer. However, what if health insurers also have access to this data about your body? And if hackers can get your credit card information, what's to stop them from accessing private data on your health? Find out more in our infographic below.
health insurance and wearable tech

Read Original  Article: http://www.insurancequotes.com/health/health-insurance-and-wearable-tech

As Boomers Retire, Companies Prepare Millennials for Leadership Roles

Companies are working to ensure millennials are prepared to step into leadership roles.



Vikram Ravinder was a little nervous as he faced the board members of Chicago nonprofit Bunker Labs in a conference room in early December. The 29-year-old Deloitte senior consultant for strategy and operations was pitching a plan that might help Bunker secure funding for a program enabling veterans to become entrepreneurs.
Ravinder developed the pitch, under Deloitte’s pro bono program, with his mentor, Jonathan Copulsky, the company’s chief marketing and chief content officer. The two meet regularly as part of a push to have senior managers train junior employees. Copulsky, who will retire in June 2017 when he reaches the company’s mandatory retirement age of 62, has mentored several younger Deloitte executives. “I was able to put this guy in a position, give him enough ‘got your back,’ but also give him the freedom that he could be successful and coach him as opposed to directing him,” Copulsky says.
Ravinder’s presentation helped the nonprofit secure new funding. “I see how he approaches clients,” Ravinder says of Copulsky. “Millennials bring data and analytics, but boomers have experience they can rely on when the data isn’t sufficient.”
Companies from Deloitte to defense contractor BAE Systems, General Motors, and General Electric are scrambling to ensure millions of younger managers from the so-called millennial generation—those born from roughly 1981 to 1997—are ready to step into leadership roles as baby boomers bow out of the workforce. About 10,000 reach retirement age every day. “Many large, older companies are caught up in a tsunami of baby boomers retiring and are unaware of how much tribal knowledge they are taking with them,” says Dorothy Leonard, professor emerita at Harvard Business School. Leonard’s firm, Leonard-Barton Group, developed knowledge-transfer programs at several GE divisions and at the nonprofit Educational Testing Service.
Until last year, boomers made up the largest portion of the U.S. population, and Generation X represented the biggest share of the workforce. Now millennials lead in both categories: They hold about 20 percent of all management jobs, up from 3 percent in 2005, according to U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
GE runs programs in its GE Hitachi Nuclear Energy and GE Transportation units, among others. Retaining technical knowledge and capabilities is a focus, says GE Global Research spokesman Todd Alhart. ETS set up knowledge-sharing partnerships between key personnel and colleagues within the same departments, to “deepen bench depth,” according to Candyce Wright-Citrone, a Develop Core Competencies Consultant in ETS’s Chief Learning Office Group. Action plans, based on individual learning goals established for participating employees, are followed over several months. GM uses educational training and mentorships to help bridge the generation gap. It wants its leaders to function more as coaches, the automaker has said. And Bank of America has a so-called onboarding program to help new executives adapt to the corporate culture and learn from senior executives.

“In the next 10 to 15 years, we’re going to have the greatest transfer of knowledge that’s ever taken place,” says Chip Espinoza, director of organization psychology at Concordia University Irvine. An effective way to handle the shift, he says, is for a company to create relationships between the generations.
“It’s clearly an emerging area that everyone is dealing with,” says Mike Preston, Deloitte’s chief talent officer. Within a decade, maybe sooner, he says, there will be no boomers in Deloitte’s top management.
BAE, a multinational defense and aerospace company, similarly has been preparing for the retirement cliff for several years, says Andrew Muras, the company’s advanced learning manager. BAE adapted a NASA program developed a decade ago when the U.S. space agency started to lose expertise from the lunar landings as senior engineers retired. Realizing it would need that knowledge for missions to Mars, the agency asked engineers who’d worked on the Apollo mission to share what they knew in meetings with new engineers.
When BAE learns that an employee with deep institutional knowledge plans to retire, whether in a few months or a couple of years, a knowledge-transfer group of about a half-dozen people of varying ages working in the same area is formed. The teams meet regularly over months to talk and exchange advice. Younger workers elicit tips, and in some cases older ones gradually hand off tasks to junior employees. The program began as a pilot in 2013; during the past two years, BAE has expanded it across the company. It eventually wants to hold as many as 60 sessions a year.
One manager who’s scheduled to retire in April demoted himself in the process and now works as an assistant to an employee who recently joined the company from the U.S. Navy to do the job the manager once held. According to Muras, the two worked together on a bid to handle maintenance and repairs on an amphibious ship for the Navy, a contract the older worker had run for 11 years. The contract has since been renewed, with the newer employee overseeing the work.
BAE has quantified the payoff of its knowledge-transfer efforts by looking at variables such as direct and indirect costs and productivity. “We’re saving on average between $120,000 to $180,000” per project, Muras says. Devoting more time preparing millennials for leadership roles may also encourage them to stay with the company. The median tenure of workers age 25-34 is about three years, compared with 10.4 years for workers age 55-64, according to BLS data.
Catie Perrella, 26, who coordinates parts production for the F-15 Eagle fighter jet, is part of BAE’s leadership development program. “You can take knowledge from position to position,” says Perrella, who joined the company in 2011 and is enrolled in an MBA program at Boston University. “I’ve had a lot of friends who leave a company after two or three years, but BAE has so many opportunities within the same walls,” she says, that she can advance her career by staying put.
The bottom line: Companies that don’t plan for generational management shifts risk falling behind and losing out to their competitors.


Monday, February 22, 2016

A Guide to Evaluating HSA Custodians

By Amy Fontinelle

OK, you've decided to open a health savings account (HSA). If you're doing so on your own, you can open your account at any bankcredit unioninsurance company or brokerage that offers these tax-advantaged vehicles for saving for medical expenses. If you open an HSA through your employer, you might be automatically enrolled with a particular HSA manager, but you have the option to switch.
Institutions that manage HSAs are called HSA custodians or HSA administrators.Whether you have to choose an HSA custodian or you’re wondering whether the one your employer chose for you is any good, there are key features to evaluate. With dozens of options available, how do you choose?
(For a quick backgrounder, read our tutorial How HSAs Work.)

Paying Fees

Like many a financial account, HSAs come with a long list of associated fees. Some you can avoid, and some you can’t. It’s important to know how not to incur the unnecessary ones, and how much the required fees will eat into your HSA balance. Here are the types of fees you’re likely to encounter, based on the schedules of three popular HSA custodians.
Health Savings Administrators
Bank of America
HSA Bank
Fee type
$45/yr. ($3.75/mo.)
$54/yr. ($4.50/mo.)
$30/yr. ($2.50/mo.)
$0.625 per $1,000 every three months
Withdrawals via paper check
Excess contribution correction/return
Non-sufficient funds (NSF)
Transaction correction
Wire transfer
Account transfer/rollover to another custodian
Account closure
Replace lost or stolen debit card
Stop payment
Copy of debit card merchant receipt
Duplicate copy of tax statement
HSA Bank offers a particularly good outline showing how its customers can avoid fees.
HSAs that offer an investment option will have a separate fee schedule. Here, you’ll encounter fees such as online trading commissions for stocks and ETFs, annual fees, low-balance fees and mutual fund fees. These fees are similar to those you’d encounter in any brokerage account. You may be able to avoid them by selecting commission-free investments and keeping your account balance above a stated minimum. (For further reading, see How to Effectively Utilize Health Savings Accounts.)

You don’t want to choose an HSA custodian that charges you too often or too much,” says Stephen D. Neeleman, MD, founder and vice chair of HealthEquity, one of the oldest and largest health savings account custodians. “Find out whether fees are based on the amount of money in your account or on how much you contribute monthly, or whether it’s a fixed fee independent of how much money you have in your HSA. Ask whether the fees are waived once the balance reaches a certain level and whether your employer will pay the fees if the account is offered through them.”
For any fees you do incur, ask your HSA custodian about paying them by check from another source of funds rather than deducting them from your HSA balance, thus depleting your account of funds that grow tax-free.

Earning Interest

Some HSA custodians pay the same interest rate, regardless of your account's cash balance. Others have tiered rates, meaning the interest you’ll earn depends on how high your balance is. You might earn 0.05% annually if your balance is $0–$2,499.99; 0.1% if your balance is $2,500–$4,999.99; and 0.2% if your balance is $5,000 or more. Make sure your HSA custodian is a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), so your funds are protected in the unlikely event the bank fails.
As with most bank checking and savings accounts, you’re unlikely to find an HSA custodian whose interest rates are high enough to keep up with inflation, even if your HSA balance falls in the highest tier. To earn more, you’ll want to invest any part of your balance that you can afford not to touch for medical bills for several years. And that brings us to another factor to consider in choosing your HSA custodian.

Investment Options

“I like banks that have brokerage accounts linked to the bank account, so once you’ve accumulated enough to cover your deductible for the year, you can invest your money in anything that is available on the brokerage platform,” says Michael E. Chadwick, owner of his own investment advisor firm in Unionville, Conn. You only want to invest the part of your HSA balance that exceeds your health insurance deductible, in case you have a big medical expense one year.
Plan not to touch any balance you invest for as long as you can. “If you don’t use it up, later in life you can roll it into a retirement plan and live on it,” Chadwick says. (For more details on this topic, read How to Use Your HSA for Retirement.)
The types of investments that are good for your HSA "depend on your investment sophistication and risk tolerance," Chadwick says. He suggests that most people be cautious and avoid high-risk instruments, aiming for a 3% to 4% return on the conservative side and 6% to 7% if you’re comfortable with a balanced investment strategy.
More specifically, look for a variety of low-cost funds that will let you invest in the S &P 500U.S.Treasuries, and other blue-chip choices. Investment costs such as Fund expense ratios and other investment costs are key because they can cut into your long-term returns. Avoid investments with early withdrawal fees unless you are sure you’ll hold them long enough to avoid the fee.
Choose an HSA administrator that offers these options – and maybe more, in case you want to change your investment strategy later. Similar to FDIC insurance, make sure the investment accounts are SIPC insured, meaning that if the administrator goes bankrupt, you can recoup your funds (up to a certain amount). SIPC insurance does not protect you against losses because the stock market declines, of course.

Contribution Strategies

If you don’t like your employer’s choice of HSA custodian, you can change. However, there are two big reasons why you might not want to close that account: matching contributions and tax savings.
“If your employer matches your HSA contributions, it’s better to keep contributing to their default HSA account and open up a secondary HSA with your preferred institution,” Neeleman says. “Then you can roll over all the funds from your employer-funded HSA into the secondary HSA in an annual sweep. Your employer will most likely only contribute to the HSA they’ve set up, and you don’t want to miss out on the free money.” You don't have to pay income tax or FICA (Social Security and Medicare) taxes on that match, remember.
You're also gaining money, in a sense, if your HSA contributions come directly out of your paycheck: They're considered as being made with pre-tax dollars, and so they effectively reduce your gross income for federal and state income taxes, and for the FICA contributions as well.
If you’re self-employed or you don’t have the option to contribute to your HSA through payroll deductions, all is not lost. You can contribute on your own. You’ll be contributing after-tax dollars, but you’ll then claim your contribution as an above-the-line adjustment to your gross income on your tax return's form 1040 and attach IRS form 8889, Health Savings Accounts, showing how your calculated your deduction. However, you will not get the FICA tax savings that you would get by having your contributions deducted from your paycheck.

The Bottom Line

Choosing an HSA custodian is similar to choosing a place to open a checking account, a savings account or a brokerage account. You want to find an HSA administrator with low fees (especially for expenses that regularly recur, such as maintenance fees and custodial fees), relatively high interest rates for short-term and cash balances, and low-cost investment options for long-term balances.
And of course, the custodian should provide an easy-to-use website and basic account protections like FDIC or SIPC insurance. Online tools such as HSA Search can help you get started.

Read more: A Guide to Evaluating HSA Custodians | Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/021816/guide-evaluating-hsa-custodians.asp#ixzz40sIe6jZn 
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Top Financial Steps to Take on Disability

By John P. Schmoll | February 19, 2016

Going on disability, whether it be short or long-term, is a challenging and often stressful experience. Many things can potentially be impacted, from your health to your job to your finances. If you are disabled on the job, you may think you can count on disability benefits through the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can’t count on that as a possibility. According to the SSA, over 2.4 million individuals filed for benefits in 2015 though only 775,000 were approved. With that in mind, you may wonder what financial steps you need to take on disability. It will depend on the situation though following are some of the general things to consider.

Find Out What Coverage You Have

When you’re about to go on disability you first need to determine what kind of coverage, if any, you can access. The most common coverage for many will be through The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). FMLA is available through qualifying employers and offers up to 12 weeks over a single 12-month period. There are a few things to remember with FMLA. Some employers will require you to use any paid leave (vacation and sick days) you currently have, as the initial part of the 12-week period. They also may require proof of a serious medical need. (For more, see: Types of Social Security Benefits.)
It doesn’t stop there. If you have disability insuranceyou will need to determine what's required to take advantage of benefits. If you believe you'll need longer disability coverage, you will want to reach out to the Social Security Administration. "Contact the Social Security Disability office in your state. You may qualify for benefits if you expect your condition to last more than one year, and you are not able to work at any job,” says Kevin Haney of Growing Family Benefits.

This work may seem overwhelming. Don’t let that hold you back as it’s vital to best prepare yourself for your time on disability. Haney also points out the possibility to upgrade your health insurance through special benefits available to those with lower incomes or those who meet certain qualifications. (For more, see: What Are the Maximum Social Security Disability Benefits?)

Cut Unnecessary Spending

One thing is certain when you go on disability, your finances will be impacted. It’s likely you won’t be bringing in the same level of income so you will want to prepare for that eventuality. Key in that is cutting your spending and living by a relatively modest budget. “Cut all unnecessary expenses. Your income is about to plummet, and your medical expenses may explode. This is not the time for extras like cable TV, smart phones, etc.,” Haney says.
This may seem harsh. It's not. It's meant to help you weather the financial storm you may face while on disability. If you're prepared, it will help mitigate the fallout though the key is to watch over your spending so as to not end up in a worse situation. (For more, see: Top 6 Features of a Great Disability Policy.)

Take Advantage of Benefits

Depending on the community you live in and professional or social associations you’re a part of, you may qualify for additional benefits. This will vary based on your location, specific situation and need. Haney points out that some states offer additional temporary coverage or possible unemployment coverage if your spouse loses their job while caring for you. In short, there are numerous avenues for assistance if you seek them out.

What to Do Prior

You may not always know when you’re going to need to begin disability. The best way to counteract that is to prepare for it to happen. If it does then, you'll be better prepared. If not, you'll be that much better off. (For more, see: Emergency Funds That Are Right for Your Tax Bracket.)
That can range from having a fully funded emergency fund to purchasing disability insurance coverage when healthy. “Buy a disability insurance policy while you are healthy. You will not qualify once you are already sick, hurt or pregnant. New policies exclude preexisting conditions for at least one year,” says Haney. It may be viewed as an unnecessary expense, though the last thing you want is to be in a situation where you need coverage but don’t have it because you didn’t want to spend the money to get it when you were healthy.

Read more: Top Financial Steps to Take on Disability | Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com/articles/financial-advisors/021916/top-financial-steps-take-disability.asp#ixzz40sIIDqkT 
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4 Reasons Why Waiting To Buy Life Insurance Is a Bad Idea

By Melissa Horton | February 21, 2016

Purchasing life insurance coverage is often low on the financial planning priority list for individuals who are young and healthy. The need to have assets set aside to cover final expenses, debts or income replacement for a spouse and dependents is hardly a pressing thought when health concerns and thoughts regarding the reality of mortality are not present; however, the cost of waiting to secure life insurance coverage can be insurmountable should something unexpected happen. Regardless of the type or amount of life insurance coverage purchased, there are compelling reasons to have coverage sooner rather than later.

Ease of Qualifying

The majority of term and permanent life insurance policies require a degree of medical underwriting, which often includes the completion of a truncated medical exam and questions regarding personal medical history and family health history. An individual who has had past medical issues will face difficulties in qualifying for a new life insurance policy as the insurance carrier will view him as a higher risk. Additionally, an older individual may not be eligible for coverage after a certain age, regardless of his health profile. Applying for life insurance coverage when health and age are of no concern allows an individual to qualify without the risk of being declined from an underwriting perspective.

Cost Savings

Life insurance coverage is based on the current age and health of the proposed insured. Insurance companies price life insurance coverage more favorably for individuals who are young and relatively healthy compared to individuals who are older and more susceptible to medical issues. For example, $500,000 of 30-year term life insurance coverage for a man at age 30 costs, on average, $34.54 each month. The same amount of coverage for a man at age 55 costs an average of $265.91 each month. Permanent insurance policy premiums can have even greater swings in cost based on age, as these policies are designed to last for the duration of one's life, unlike term policies. Cost savings represent a substantial benefit of securing life insurance coverage earlier in life.

Covering Future Expenses

The majority of young, healthy individuals are not actively thinking about ways to cover future expenses because those expenses may not yet exist; however, it is easy to cover final expenses, spousal income replacement, dependent care expenses and debt coverage with life insurance well before the need for coverage is apparent. Because life insurance death benefits are tax-free to beneficiaries, a policyholder has the opportunity to establish a financial safety net to cover future expenses fully at a much lower cost based on age and health.

Conversion Options

An individual who secures term life insurance coverage earlier in life often has the option to convert a portion of the policy to permanent coverage down the road. A life insurance conversion allows the insured to transition some or all of a term insurance policy into a permanent policy at the same health rating assigned at the time the original policy was issued. For example, an individual who has a $500,000 term policy can choose to convert $100,000 to a permanent policy, leaving him with the same amount of total coverage. The permanent insurance is still in place after the term expires, which is beneficial in estate planning and long-term financial planning strategies.
Because conversion of a term policy does not generally require medical underwriting, an individual avoids the risk of receiving a lower health rating based on current medical conditions and, therefore, higher premiums. Instead of undergoing a new medical exam and filling out a new health questionnaire, the insured simply completes a short application for conversion with the insurance carrier. The premium for the term insurance coverage is reduced based on the lower death benefit amount, while the premium for the new permanent coverage is based on the initial health rating and the current age of the insured. Conversion provisions within a term policy can be an incredibly valuable tool for an individual who is in need of long-term insurance coverage but may not qualify for a favorable health rating.

Read more: 4 Reasons Why Waiting To Buy Life Insurance Is a Bad Idea | Investopedia http://www.investopedia.com/articles/personal-finance/022116/4-reasons-why-waiting-buy-life-insurance-bad-idea.asp#ixzz40sHsU9eI 

How America’s Dullest City Got Cool

One meeting, a visionary planner and old-fashioned Iowan cooperation reinvented Des Moines.
An enclosed system of skywalks was installed in the 1970s and 1980s, allowing Des Moines workers and shoppers to move from building to building downtown without bracing for cold weather. The plan backfired, though, when it deprived sidewalks and public pavilion of life and commerce.

he capital of Iowa has long had a reputation as one of the least hip, least interesting and least dynamic cities in the Western world, a dull insurance town set amid the unending corn fields of flyover country, a place Minneapolis looks down on and the young and ambitious flee as soon as they graduate. “Usually you are born here or marry into here or get transferred here,” says local entrepreneur Mike Draper. “Not many people come to chase their dreams. If they did, you’d be like, ‘What, you want to be an actuary?’”
But unbeknownst to many outside the Midwest, over the past 15 years Des Moines has transformed into one of the richest, most vibrant, and, yes, hip cities in the country, where the local arts scene, entrepreneurial startups and established corporate employers are all thriving. Its downtown — previously desolate after 5 p.m. — has come alive, with 10,000 new residents and a bevy of nationally recognized restaurants. A few blocks away, the uber-cool Des Moines Social Club draws 25,000 people a month — more than a 10th of the city’s population — to take part in everything from Shakespeare and avant-garde theater to live music and aerial gymnastics classes. Former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne showed up at its opening in 2014 because he thinks a city once called “Des Boring” may be America’s next creative hub.

The city that a legion of presidential campaign staffers and journalists are now swarming over is not the one many of them might recognize from cycles past. No longer just a drab dateline from the first battleground state, this metropolis is riding high in the polls. In recent years Des Moines has been named the nation’s richest (by U.S. News) and economically strongest city (Policom), its best for young professionals (Forbes), families (Kiplinger), home renters (Time), businesses and careers (Forbes). It has the highest community pride in the nation, according to a Gallup poll last year, and in October topped a Bloomberg analysis of which cities in the United States were doing the best at attracting millennials to buy housing. “Never mind California or New York,” Fast Company declared two years back. “By some important measures, Des Moines is way ahead of its cooler coastal cousins.” Not bad for a metro area of half a million located hundreds of miles from either mountains or the sea.
Cities don’t, as a rule, change their identities. They might accentuate a characteristic they already possess, but plow horses don’t become thoroughbreds. So how did Des Moines pull off the urban equivalent of a Triple Crown win?
Call it radical cooperation. Des Moines tapped the latent power of the heartland — a cultural ethos of working together and good manners that’s helped account for Iowa’s stability — and harnessed it to an ambitious plan to jump-start downtown by building cultural amenities, attracting creative class types and retaining big employers. Des Moines’ civic leaders realized the city wasn’t going to transform itself without a clear long-term vision, so in an almost hyper-Iowan way they did something almost unheard of. They took it upon themselves to bring in an outside visionary and then tied together the destinies of the various projects he envisioned, forging an almost ego-less, private-sector-driven renaissance that has continued to flower over the past decade.

Seventy years ago, a Saturday Evening Post profile likened Des Moines to “a decent kindly man with a fixed income [who] has learned his station.” Even before the I-235 punched its way through the north side of the city, encouraging a late-1950s commuter exodus to suburban West Des Moines and Altoona, nobody had lived downtown, even though most everyone worked there.
“There were women in hats and white gloves at the tea room or the department stores during the day, and men in hats and ties working in the insurance companies and banks,” Michael Gartner, owner of the city’s Triple-A Iowa Cubs baseball team, recalls of his childhood in the late 1940s. “At 5 o’clock they would get onto their buses and go home.”

Highways killed the downtown department stores, and by the late 1960s the central city had become little more than an office park for its leading industries: insurance, agricultural support services, and government. In the 1970s and 1980s, the city tried to turn things around by installing suburban conveniences, including an enclosed system of skywalks, allowing people to get from building to building and through new indoor shopping malls without putting on their coats, which only furthered the abandonment of the sidewalks and the storefronts. On Friday and Saturday nights, bored teenagers raced their cars through the empty streets, circling the downtown loop from Grand to Locust Avenue over and over again. “This was supposed to be a menace to society,” Des Moines Register columnist Rekha Basu recalls. They would have been perhaps a greater menace had there been some risk of hitting a pedestrian.

By the late 1980s, the city’s leaders realized they needed to do something uncharacteristically bold. The big private employers — the insurance companies Principal, Nationwide, EMC and Wellmark; publishing giant Meredith (Better Homes and Gardens); Wells Fargo — had a lot riding on the central city, where they maintained offices for tens of thousands of employees. “They said, 'Look, we have a tremendous investment here and we want to be able to attract and retain people,'” says Mary O’Keefe, who was Principal’s vice president for marketing for 25 years. “The business community here is really strong and responsible and they took leadership on these things out of enlightened self interest.” They also realized they needed fresh ideas.
Ironically, the critical link was made by art collector Melva Bucksbaum, whose husband, Martinpioneered the suburban shopping center, founding General Growth Properties, the mall-making behemoth behind everything from Tyson’s Galleria in suburban Washington, D.C. to Chicago’s Water Tower Place. In the spring of 1987, Bucksbaum took a well-timed call from a friend of hers, architect Bruce Graham, whose buildings — including the Sears Tower and John Hancock Center — had transformed Chicago’s skyline. Graham had a colleague to recommend, an innovative urban thinker looking for a Midwestern city to experiment on. Bucksbaum was thrilled. Soon that visionary, Mario Gandelsonas, found himself in a car hurtling up Fleur Drive from the Des Moines International Airport, headed for downtown.
He was horrified at what he saw.
In the summer of 1987, Gandelsonas was a 49-year-old professor at the Yale School of Architecture. Born and raised in Argentina and educated in Paris, he’d long had a fascination with Alexis de Tocqueville’s observations on the social groups and civic associations that give American democracy its distinct bottom-up power. “This civic spirit still exists,” Gandelsonas said, “but I think they are much more visible in a small city in the heartland than in a place like New York.” Graham, his mentor, suggested Des Moines might be the perfect place for him to put into practice his theories that the future of cities might lie in such unlikely places. Des Moines had strong cultural associations, an engaged leadership eager for new ideas and was surprisingly wealthy, meaning there were resources available to implement a good idea.

Gandelsonas’ urban planning philosophy was simple: don’t treat a city like a map that needs to be redrawn and corrected, but as a living organism with its own purpose, personality and innate characteristics. Successful interventions are ones that enhance and enable the organism’s socio-economic metabolism by removing blockages or creating new centers of potential growth. Instead of producing a total and comprehensive master plan for a city, Gandelsonas sought to identify a series of “moments,” civic projects that would enhance its fabric and unleash its potential. Or so the theory went.
The car ride in from the airport was sobering. At the central city’s gateway, what Gandelsonas called its “front yard,” travelers were greeted by a gas station and seven blocks of car dealerships set among radiator shops and pawn brokers. Downtown itself “looked like science fiction,” he recalls. “It was mid-morning and there were no people on the streets. At lunchtime, the streets were still empty, but for about an hour the skywalks were full of people. At 4:30 they started filling up again as everyone rushed to the nearest parking structure and then for half an hour there was a full-on traffic jam as 50,000 people tried to get to West Des Moines. Then the city was empty again. For me this was the perfect picture of a place that was totally dysfunctional.”

Read more: http://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/01/how-des-moines-iowa-got-cool-213552#ixzz40sHOICsD